It was recently reported that vandals of some sort have left a derogatory statement on the newly built Oread hotel at the summit of Mt. Oread (x2!). The comment sections of various news sources have, predictably, been quick to enlighten curious community members on the finer points of the commenters’ various levels of genius and sophisticated cultural commentary. Far be it from me to give the comment sections of any online publication accolades of any kind, though I would like to mention two things (was that a sentence?).
1. Comment sections, as mean-spirited and sarcastic as they might seem, oftentimes reveal or disclose certain patterns of various modes of thought or ideologies. As such, they can be particularly useful when analyzing specific discourses on a great number of topics. When I was writing for the Kansan, I received comments from as far as Israel and Puerto Rico, and not all of them were constructive, or even nice. However I now have a file from which I am able to extrapolate arguements and popular ideas, etc – enough for a whole book, really – and someday I might. Long story medium: there is value to them. The comments section, that is.
2. In this particular case (I keep using that word), I think that the comments are a somewhat accurate reflection, sadly, of the broader community in Lawrence and on campus. They run the gamut from obvious to redundant, sarcastic to moderate, supportive to hostile – as they usually do. But what they reflect, I think is a particularly annoying characteristic of the mentality of our culture, one that I have come to call “enlightened nihilism.” With only a small amount of tongue-in-cheek.
Everyone knows better than everyone else. Everyone knows this. Furthermore, it would seem that everyone knows the same thing: that everything is useless. People, it would seem, have figured out that doing anything – anything at all – is so profoundly useless that not only should they refrain from doing it, but they should join them in enlightening each other on the finer points of knowing better. What the enlightened nihilist has to say – and they can come from any camp or persuasion – is what LOLcats everywhere have been telling us for years: yer doin it rong. But more important than this is the revelation wrapped up in this statement that they are, in fact, doing it right. They have gone through the necessary mental machinations that predictably land one at the inevitable conclusion that nothing is worth anything, and anything creative or out of the ordinary is stupid – unless it’s on prime-time or on a basketball court.
Here is my response to the Enlightened Nihilist:
Using sarcasm is not synonymous with being intelligent. Your ability to construct and utter a clever and ambiguous quip about this that or the other does not constitute intellectual criticism (actually sarcasm is a cop-out because of its embedded ambiguity – if people don’t know what you’re talking about they will think you’re smart, and if you change your mind you can disown the sarcasm).
This sort of discourse also produces the unfortunate effect of nobody actually talking about the contested person/place/thing/event. It immediately distracts from the thing at hand and becomes a conversation about “hippies” or “property rights” or whatever, and in so doing becomes a sort of default red herring, wherein people are completely unable to discuss any thing because they’re caught up in secondary or tertiary distractions. And what’s worse, these distractions are built on assumptions and stereotypes: Oh hippies did it. Oh anarchists did it. Oh fratboys did it. These people are this way because of this. I’m smarter because I’m not like that. BLAH BLAH BLAH. The real danger in that is when some thing singularly REAL or CREATIVE or IMPORTANT happens, people won’t even recognise it. What channel was it on? We’ll ask. Not: is it true? Is it good? Is it right?
Case in point: we’ve got soldiers, marines, civilians – CHILDREN – dying in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine/ Israel. And why? Why are we there? I ask you: where are we right now in Afghanistan? Why? Oh I don’t know, but those hippies - shut up. “Those Hippies” wrote SHOUT PEACE. The word PEACE is a signifier for the theoretical opposite of what is happening right now (see: WAR ). The people who wrote that are at least somewhat concerned with this fact, and we don’t even hear it. We don’t even have the ears to hear.
Oh but it’s not “effective,” therefore I will engage in my usual effective strategies: video games, American Idol, basketball. Words aren’t effective, the enlightened nihilist seems to say – unless he’s the one uttering them. Apparently they’ve never considered the power of the words coming out of channels like Fox or people like George Bush or Osama Bin Laden, Binyamin Netanyahu. Right. Words have no power. They contain no ideas. They have no agency for action in the world. Okay. You win.
But for my part, I’m going to SHOUT PEACE.